A Devil of a Night

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Sports,Brian McNally

Parise's hat trick helps snap Washington's 3-game win streak

Just when it looked like the Capitals had pulled out of their recent tailspin, they sputtered again on Friday night against the New Jersey Devils.

The overall effort may have been better than in blowout losses to the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes last week. But the result was the same: Ugly. Zach Parise recorded a hat trick by early in the second period and the Devils cruised to a 5-0 victory to end Washington's three-game winning streak.

"It seems to be that's the way it is with us - we're either on or we're off, and I think when things aren't going our way, we might try to start doing a little too much," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "When you're playing against teams like that, that's when it really starts to pile up against you instead of sticking to the game plan, getting pucks up deep and forechecking."

Facing a team that had just played 24 hours earlier on the road in Boston, the Caps needed a fast start. But after a solid first 10 minutes, Matt Hendricks took a high-sticking penalty and New Jersey needed just 24 seconds to convert at 11 minutes, 29 seconds of the first period. David Clarkson made a beautiful tap pass from in front of the net right on the stick of Parise standing at the goal line to the right. He slammed a shot past goalie Michal Neuvirth (15 saves, 20 shots) for the 1-0 lead.

Late in the second period the Caps fell apart - fast. A back pass from Marcus Johansson to defenseman Mike Green led to a shot attempt. But Devils forward Adam Henrique blocked it and created an odd-man chance for New Jersey going the other way. Ilya Kovalchuk fired a shot from the right circle and the puck trickled through Neuvirth and behind him. Parise was there again, driving hard to the net and nudging the puck into the goal. That was his second of the game and made it 2-0.

They got worse 29 seconds later. A bad turnover in the defensive zone by Alex Semin led to another Devils scoring chance. Former Washington forward Dainius Zubrus shot the puck and then whacked home the rebound while being knocked to the ice. It took just six shots for the Devils to score three times. They had seven in the first period total.

"For whatever reason, there definitely seemed to be a sag after the two goals," Caps forward Jeff Halpern. "And the third goal it seemed like a deflated team. It's a complete knock on the guys in the room - all of us, myself included - for just having absolutely no response."

Parise put the game out of reach early in the second period when he took advantage of another Washington turnover. A clearance from defenseman John Carlson was knocked back into the defensive zone, where Mike Green jumped up to clear the puck. He missed it and New Jersey had a 2-on-1. Parise scored on a pass from Henrique at 3:08 of the second.

The Caps pressed hard for the next goal with six consecutive shots while controlling possession. They had a little momentum late in the period when Mathieu Perreault drew a high-sticking penalty. But needing to be aggressive in that situation was a double-edged sword. The Devils entered the night with an NHL-high 13 short-handed goals. They made it 14 when Zubrus swiped the puck from Brooks Laich at the blueline and he and Elias rushed up ice after a turnover. Elias finished the ensuing pass easily and made it 5-0.

It was another missed opportunity. With three games in hand on No. 8 Winnipeg (31-27-8, 70 points) entering play Friday, the Caps (32-27-5, 69 points) instead remained in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They also failed to gain ground on No. 3 Florida (30-21-12, 72 points), which is in first place in the Southeast Division and has now played one fewer game. The Panthers and Jets were both idle. Washington continues its homestand on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It's tough. You don't want to wake up in the morning and see that you're not in the playoffs, but it's still 18 games left," Laich said. "We've got a lot of hockey left. Sometimes you're going to lose hockey. That's the way it goes. We've got to rebound."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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